A gray headstone marks the Bayne family plot in a Baltimore cemetery. Etched in the polished granite are the names of a mother, a father and their eldest son, a soldier lost in World War II.
But the remains of Pfc. Robert B. Bayne are interred far from his parents, most likely in an unknown soldier's grave in St. Avold, France. On this Veterans Day, his surviving brothers, 81-year-old twins Kenneth H. and Calvin C. Bayne, remain determined to bring the sibling they called Buddy home from the war that claimed his life in 1945.
"All we want is his remains," Calvin Bayne said.
"We have been waiting 64 years," added Kenneth Bayne.
While the Department of Defense and modern technology have made great strides in identifying war dead, the process is painstakingly slow for many families like the Baynes. Investigators trying to assist surviving families are working nearly 90,000 cases. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office is looking into the Baynes' case, but has told the brothers it could be another year before they make a determination about whether to disinter what the Baynes both believe are the remains of their brother.
The brothers have pieced together the story of Buddy's last mission from their own research and accounts from the lone soldier who survived it and visited them after the war.
In April 1945, a year after Buddy had left home, the 26-year-old infantryman and three others volunteered for a risky mission to cross the Rhine River near Mannheim, Germany. A cabdriver delivered a telegram to the family's Dundalk home notifying them that Buddy was declared missing in action after the battle.
For his efforts in combat, Robert Bayne was awarded a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the European Medal with three battle stars. All are as carefully preserved as his many penciled letters and the photo of a smiling young man in uniform.
Relatives long ago accepted that he had died in 1945, but they never gave up hope of finding his remains. From Army records, they learned that the Germans buried the three soldiers who died on that mission together along the Rhine River in Germany. After the war, the Army's mortuary team recovered the bodies and identified two of them but not their brother. The third, whose dental records did not match those taken from Bayne at his induction, was declared unknown and buried in St. Avold in northern France. The brothers know the exact plot: 000, row 6, grave 70. They are certain it is Buddy's grave.
"There is no big mystery here," said Ken Bayne, who still wears his brother's 1936 Sparrows Point High School ring and had Buddy's name tattooed on his left arm decades ago. "Four men got in that boat to cross the Rhine. Halfway across, the Germans opened fire. Three were killed and only one came back alive, and we got to talk to him years ago."
Ken keeps detailed records of every conversation and every correspondence related to his brother, whose status was changed to killed in action in 1946. He has documentation from 1949, when the Army said it had insufficient evidence to establish an identification, and from 1957, when the Army denied one last request to review the case.
"We bugged the Army for years, but never got anything back," Ken Bayne said.
Now DNA research has sparked new hope, he said. Ken and Calvin both submitted DNA in July 2008 and gave investigators all their research, hoping the Army could match their samples to those of the unknown soldier in grave 70. Further investigation by the Army has shown that Private Bayne's dental records may have been misplaced or lost after his induction, bringing the initial efforts to match them with the third soldier into question.
The Bayne brothers, who still live in Dundalk, both went to a seminar for survivors in Bethesda in March and spent an hour with investigators. One historian uncovered long stored information, including copies of radio transmissions about the 1945 incident. The historian, whom they will not name, told them that their brother should be identified as the soldier in that French cemetery and encouraged them to pursue the case. But the research has yet to satisfy officials, who said this week that they now have all the records they need to evaluate the Bayne case.
Robert Newberry, head of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, said, "Scientists and historians are reviewing all the evidence now. If there is sufficient evidence to warrant disinterment they will prepare the documentation to obtain the approval."
The brothers believe they have done enough to bring the investigation to a close.
"It doesn't take rocket science to know our brother is buried in France," Calvin Bayne said. "They have the grave and they have the forensics. We have a runaround and the Army playing games with us. We have seen all the records. We know damn well that Buddy would want to be buried at home. That is the least and probably the last thing that we can do for him. And we are both running out of time."